If you do a YouTube search for Demetrius Johnson, you’ll see footage of him wrestling Alan Calahan at the USA Wrestling National Junior Duals. You’ll also find a highlight reel from his college basketball days with the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) Mastodons. And you’ll find his “I’ve Got My Strength Back” sermon, based on the story of Samson and Delilah.
None of these are the Genesis FIGHTS / AX Fighting / Rumble on the Ridge bantamweight MMA champion Demetrious Johnson. With an ‘o.’
Known to his friends simply as “DJ,” Johnson is another young star on the rise from the Pacific Northwest. As the reigning 135 lb. king of three different fight promotions, Johnson has a legitimate claim to be the toughest bantamweight fighter in the Pacific Northwest.
In January, Johnson broke his hand in a match where he claimed his Rumble on the Ridge 135 lb. MMA title. At the time of the first part of this interview, he was waiting for medical clearance to begin sparring. He has since been cleared to train and is preparing for a match at Genesis FIGHTS’ next event, “Rise of Kings, Emperors of MMA,” which takes place on June 27th at the Shoreline Community College.
In a two-part phone interview, Johnson offered insight and reflection on his passion for running, how it translates to fighting, and of course how he deals with being “the smallest guy on the scene.”
JT: Tell us a little bit about your high school wrestling background. Have you been wrestling all your life?
DJ: No, I started wrestling in eighth grade and I did very well in that season. I only lost one match the whole season, and then I took first in districts, which is the highest level you could get in middle school. After that I went to high school and my freshman year, I got tore up. Just mop the mat with me. Sitting there with a black eye, bloody lip. And it was because I weighed 109 lbs. and I was wrestling 118. I didn’t want to wrestle JV [Junior Varsity] 112, because I couldn’t beat the 112-pounder, but I could beat the 118-pounder. So I wrestled my whole high school freshman year at 118, and got beat up, didn’t go nowhere. My sophomore year, I started peaking a little bit. . . I took fifth [place] in state. And then my junior year, I dominated and I took second in state. And my senior year, I was supposed to take the whole state tournament and everything. Went undefeated throughout the whole tournament season, and then I lost in the third round, to the semi-finals, to get to the finals, to a kid from Sedro-Woolley. He pinned me.
JT: That must have been a hard pill to swallow.
DJ: No, I wasn’t that – I think we were both good. I think I was better than him, but the whole season, I never fought off my back. I’d never been taken down the whole entire season of wrestling, and I’m about to go against a freshman that has a very decent record, that’s wrestled all throughout the state and all this other stuff. And then when I went against him, he took me down. . . And once he got me there, it was like “oh my God, I’ve never been here before. How do I fight out of it?” . . . Because I had no idea how to fight from there. It basically broke me, mentally.
I got up and approached my coach and he was like “well, oh well!”
And that’s just like MMA. If you don’t train your ground game, when you fall to the ground with the guy, the first thing in your mind is “oh shit, I’m on the ground. What do I do?” . . . And I told myself from then on there, if there’s anything I can do [to keep from] losing, I will do everything in my power not to lose. . . Because I’m not going to repeat that. I’ve already had my loss, in my career, and as an amateur, I want to go through this circuit as 14-0.
JT: After wrestling your senior year, you ended up at Vision Quest. Were you just looking for a workout or how did that pique your interest?
DJ: Well, I got into MMA right after high school. . . I never knew about MMA until right after the first “Ultimate Fighter” came on. . . I saw how they were training hard. I said “damn, they’re kicking the bag, [they’ve got] tough bodies. I think I’m gonna try it.”
So I walked into a gym, Vision Quest, which I no longer go to . . . I’ve always been working out at Vision Quest, ever since they opened. . . since my junior year. My wrestling coach thought it would be good for me, because there’s a lot more wrestlers that go there.. . . And I just started punching the bag, kicking it. And (former IFL / UFC fighter) Reese Andy looked at me, he said “hey, can you kick?” I was like “yeah.” He said “can you punch?” I started punching. He goes “you wanna do MMA?” I was like “I’ll learn.” And he set me up with AMC when the classes were at Vision Quest. And I’ve been with AMC since then.
JT: Was it the glitz and glamour that got you [interested], or did you know you were looking for release for your sense of competition after wrestling?
DJ: I’d say competition. I wanted to keep on competing. I didn’t want to stop doing a sport and being fat and lazy on the couch. And go to my 10-year high school reunion and be like “hey guys, I gained 80 pounds, and I’m fat.”
JT: Was college in the decks for you, or were you going to work a scholarship for wrestling?
DJ: I did have a couple of scholarship offers for wrestling, but I didn’t want to leave my family behind and go off and do my own thing. . . If I wanted to go to college and wrestle, I would have to go out of state. One college that I went to was Southern Oregon Community College, but they didn’t have dorm rooms, so I’d have to rent an apartment out there and work out there and I didn’t want to do that.
So I went to Pierce College and I was working a job there too and working out part-time. Just lifting, trying to get bigger, since I didn’t have to stay at 118 pounds in high school. I didn’t take any scholarship offers. I don’t regret or anything, because I’m in a better place now [with fighting than wrestling].
JT: If I remember correctly, you spend part of your time at AMC South and part of your time at Kirkland, right?
DJ: Yeah, usually . . . what people don’t understand – there’s AMC Kirkland and there’s AMC South, which is AMC Pacific. When I train, basically, my instructor, my teacher, was Steve Skidds and Luke Pitman. And basically Drew [Brokenshire], Taurean [Washington], Brian [Roberge], us little core guys, we basically taught ourselves – not to fight, but that’s what training was like.
Usually, when I go up there on Saturdays, I try to get beat up a lot. From Caros [Fodor], Trevor, Daniel [Eng], Matt [Hume] – basically, the big dogs, up there. Because that’s the best thing you can do. I think you learn from getting beat up. . . I was up there a few weeks ago and I was getting my hard sparring round in. Me and Caros were just banging away. Here I am, 140 lbs., and he’s a 180-pounder. And we’re just going at it. And after the fight was done, I asked Matt “tell me what I did wrong.” And he just told me everything that I did wrong. And I understood him. That’s why I like going up there on Saturdays, up in Kirkland. So I get beat up, basically.
JT: I talked with Drew and he said the same thing. That you guys drill with each other and beat each other up as the team down south, and then go on Saturdays and test your skills [in Kirkland].
DJ: Yeah, and it’s funny, because you’ll see me and Drew – we’re main training partners. I like him to hold mitts for me, because he holds them just perfect, the way I like it. And same as for him for me. When we fight, we fight a little bit similar; we have the same pressure, but he’s more stand-up, and he’s developing his ground game. But me, I like to pressure in fights. I used to be slick fighter, like “I’ll fight you when I want to fight you.” So we’re both trying to get adaptable to our styles.
JT: Am I right in remembering, you guys have a 10-pound difference?
DJ: Yeah, there’s a 10-pound difference, but when he’s not cutting weight, there’s a 30-pound difference. If I walk around, on a good day, at 144-145.
JT: So you keep it down and he does the whole Ricky Fatton [Hatton] thing.
DJ: You could say that, but [laughs] he walks around like 167, which is really good, and I walk around 140. And I’ve cut down to 125. I’ve fought twice at 125, but Matt wants me at 135, just to get used to the weight class up there.
JT: Tell me your thoughts about being a part of AMC and training under Matt.
DJ: It’s awesome. It doesn’t get better than this. One thing that I love about AMC is that there’s always somebody that can beat you up. And what I mean by that is an instructor – I really don’t get a chance to spar Matt, Trevor, or Daniel, or Brad [Kurtson] as much as I wish I could, but I know that if I go up there and I’m like “shit, I want to spar,” if they want to, I know they’ll just mop me up. Even though I mop all my opponents up.
JT: There’s always somebody higher on the totem pole, right?
DJ: Yeah, there’s always someone higher on the scale. Granted, they’re not my same weight, but I’ve been dealing with that my whole life and that’s just what [propels] me. Five-four, 145 pounds. There’s just not a lot of guys around here that weigh that much and are at my skill level.
JT: How long have you been training at AMC?
DJ: I’d say I’ve been training MMA, like, four years now.
JT: And coupled with wrestling training, which certainly is no joke either. . .
DJ: Oh now, so then you’re going back to wrestling. So you got four years of MMA. I started [wrestling] when I was in eighth grade – so about nine years total.
JT: So that said, I would think by now you’ve developed your own kind of training philosophy or style. What’s your outlook on training? How do you approach it?
DJ: Okay, so, it’s like, I think you train hard and the fight’s easy. You train like a champion, you fight like a champion. You train like shit, you fight like shit. With us being down at AMC Pacific, where it’s just us little core guys, we have to learn to train ourselves hard, because we all don’t live by each other. Like I’m in University Place, Drew lives in Piala, Taurean lives in Covington. So does Brian. And Steve – he’s an Alaska Airlines pilot. So when we train, we’re not always together.
I don’t need a coach behind me, yelling at me, like “run your sprints. Do this, do that.” That actually irritates me a little bit. I went to college and I could have finished school and got my higher education and went off and done something else, but I decided that I wanted to fight. And I know what fighting comes with. And it’s a job to be in top shape when you fight . . . You don’t need to babysit me. But sometimes I feel that guys are in a world where they need babysistters. Even pro guys. If you don’t tell them what to do, they’re just going to sit at home like “oh, I’ll wait until the next time I’m fighting and not do whatever I gotta do.”
JT: You’re really a self-started and you have to kind of make your own training and regiment, really.
DJ: As a regimen, Steve Skidds tells me what my lifting should be and what I should be eating and stuff, but as for somebody calling me, waking me up out of bed, and telling me to go to the gym, I don’t need it, and that’s how it’s been my whole life, ever since I was in elementary running.
JT: What pro fighters has Matt brought in that you’ve trained with?
DJ: I’ve trained with Rich [Franklin] and Chris Leben. I got to wrestle with Jens Pulver.
Rich was pretty fun. He’s a lot heavier. I was trying to keep up with my pace and try to choke him out. When I trained with Chris Leben, I didn’t roll with him, but doing stand-up with him, it was a little bit difficult with him, because it was when I was first starting, so I really didn’t understand the southpaw position, but. But he’s beef. He’s huge.
JT: Was it difficult to get over the size difference there?
DJ: No, I’ve been dealing with that my whole life.
JT: Tell me about that part, always being the smaller guy. Did you deal with bullying as a kid?
DJ: When I was growing up, I didn’t really get bullied, but I was an easy target. So everybody makes fun of me. When I was in elementary, it wasn’t as bad. Then when I got to middle school, I had a temper and I was one of those bad kids who stayed out late at night and did bad things. Just to prove that – you make fun of me at all, ‘cuz I’ll beat you up. Then, when I got into eighth grade, when I started learning, when I started maturing, nobody messed with me. When I got physical, in ninth grade, the seniors, nobody messed with me. They make fun of me, because I was short and I had big ears. Like a mouse. But nobody really picked on me at all. Just being the smaller guy in the room, when I got ahold of them, I could wrestle them and they’re like “oh, you’re a small guy, but you’re not weak like a small person.”
JT: When did you get blessed with the Mighty Mouse nickname?
DJ: [Laughs] That came, probably, during when I had been training with Skidds and those guys. . . I’m the smallest guy at my gym right now, besides Scott McDonald, who is one of the new guys. So I’ll roll with Brian, Taurean, Skidds, Drew, and I’ll give them fits. . . . And so Skidds gave me the nickname “Mighty Mouse” because I’m small, but I always bring the fight. I’m always gonna be there, wherever you’re gonna be at. I’m not just gonna keep it on my feet, because I’m better than you, but I’ll beat you to the ground and submit you even though that’s your aim. And so he nicknamed me “Mighty Mouse.” And the way my ears are too, and my structure.
JT: I was gonna say, it really fits in there. The whole thing about good things coming in small packages, right?
DJ: Yeah [laughs].
JT: For you, what’s the toughest thing about fighting?
DJ: Honestly, I love training hard, I love running, I love lifting hard. I’d say the toughest thing about fighting is the sparring hard. . . Because when you spar, you get hurt, you get bruises, and you can potentially tear something. Or anything. But people believe that you need to spar hard to get in good shape. And I totally disagree with that, because yes, people say that I’m a freak when it comes to cardio, but I can tell you that I don’t spar hard when I get ready for a fight, because you get hurt that way.
When I jump in the ring and I have to fight, I know that I gotta be in perfect condition, and I gotta make sure I train my body to be ready for that aggravating throwing and to work hard and not [get] tired when I throw hard. And some people don’t train their minds to do that. . . My training is very strict. I know what I need to do to get ready for a fight, and it’s the same thing what I did for wrestling. . . I [want] to make sure my whole body’s recovered, and make sure, when I fight, I’m at 110%. Not with all the aches and bruises. Because you don’t want to walk into a fight with aches and bruises.
Now, when I train, I take care of my body. I pop my fish oil and my multivitamin. I make sure I wrap my hands. I wear kneepads. I wear shinpads. Because if I get hurt in practice, let’s say I break my hand in practice. . . That’s a huge setback, because now I gotta have surgery. There’s another 40 G’s down the drain, because of surgery. And now that’s the main rule. When me and Drew spar now, we spar hard, but we spar with our heads. We don’t try to hurt each other and break our legs.
This body has to last me until I’m 39 or 38, because this is my career. I stopped going to school, and if I don’t make it like this, it’s gonna be McDonald’s or Jack-in-the-Box, and I don’t want to go to any one of those.
JT: Well, they also got Dick’s Burgers up there on Broadway too.
DJ: [Laughs] Dick’s Burger are not a go either.
JT: I guess that kinda answers my next question. If you had to make a living outside of fighting, what would it be?
DJ: If I was to do something, it [would] be in the athletic department. That would probably have to be it. Honestly, I would like to be a high school coach, probably wrestling or cross country.
JT: Is running or fighting more your passion? Do you still have that same passion for running?
DJ: Oh no, it really hasn’t taken away from running, because I use most of my running for my training for MMA . . . I used to run half-marathons and street races and stuff. . . Fighting – I look at it as my hobby and it’s my job. So I take it very seriously.
I ran ever since I was little, and in second grade, I ran [in a group] called track club. Nobody coached you how to do it; nobody [said] you shouldn’t do it. You basically go out on the track and you run the whole recess. So while people were on the swings swinging or playing the monkey bars, I was running laps. Constantly. Every recess, for five years. Every school year. At the end of the year, the goal [was] to get 100 miles. At each 25-mile mark, you get something. 25 miles you get something, 50 miles you get something, 75 miles, I remember you get a big pizza party, and 100 miles, you get a medal. My last year, I had like 117 miles at the end of the year. So I beat my old personal record. . . And that became a passion for me when I got out of high school.
My mindset in running, it kinda rolls over to MMA for where I go in a long run or I’m running sprints for MMA training. My technique comes back in running, and it’s like “oh man, I’m so glad that I love running, or this would be a pain in my ass.”
JT: As a fan of MMA, who are some of your favorite fighters, or some of the best matches you’ve seen?
DJ: My favorite fighter, hands down, would be Thiago “Pitbull” Alves. I think his last fight with Josh Koscheck was really good. How he didn’t get taken down at all, and he controlled the center of the ring. He had a pretty good game plan. Rampage, he’s another one of my favorite fighters, just because of his attitude. He keeps it real when he’s fighting. . . He has his fun. He enjoys his life. George St-Pierre, he’s one of my favorites too. He’s more of a game-planner, but at that level, the UFC competition, you have to have a game plan. You just can’t go in there and try to fight your way like that.
JT: Who do you like in St-Pierre vs. Alves? You looking forward to that fight?
DJ: If I had to put down $100, I’m gonna pick Alves. And the reason why is because Thiago Alves is a bigger guy and I think he’s gonna come up with a good game plan against Georges St-Pierre. Because Georges St-Pierre does have a weak chin. It’s been exposed. Thiago Alves has real good power in both hands and his knees and in his kicks.
JT: Run me through your fight career, as far as matches goes. I believe your AMC site said you were 8-0 in MMA and 4-0 in Muay Thai? When was your first match?
DJ: It would have to be Brawl at the Mall III, so that was back in 2006. . .
Yeah, I remember how they went. The first match was mixed martial arts against Oren Ulrich. After that I did a kickboxing fight against Mike Richardson. And the reason I did that was because Matt was like “okay, we know you can wrestle, but we gotta work on your stand-up.” I did that one. And then my third fight – it was actually a forfeit, so I don’t count that. It was against Michael Aries, and I remember him showing up nine pounds overweight. I said I’d still fight him, but he didn’t want to fight. I think my next fight was at AX [Fighting], at 125 pounds. And this was when I first tried out 125 pounds. I knocked out my opponent, Brandon Fields in 17 seconds.
I won the Axe [title] first, then the Genesis Muay Thai title. Then I defended the Axe title. And then I fought for the Genesis [MMA] title. And then I fought for the Rumble on the Ridge title. And [that’s] all four belts that I have now.
JT: Did you defend the AX title at all?
DJ: Yeah, I defended it against Jorge Garza, and I armbarred him in the second round. Because after I fought a kickboxing match, against Scott McDonald, I broke my rib. And when I came back, Matt told me “You’re already exciting to fight. You go out there and you bang, but now you have to start finishing people.” So right after Matt said that, I started finishing people in MMA. I armbarred Jorge Garza. And that was the first fight that I finished somebody. After Matt said that comment to me.
JT: So you’ve fought steadily four times each year, since your debut. You’ve been busy, man.
Sometimes I’ll fight more in a year, and take it less [next] year. But if you do a ratio, yeah, it’s like four times each year.
You’ve gotta stay busy. Because I’m the type of person that, if I’m not hurt or not strapped for cash or anything, I just keep on training. . . Because I want to get to the next level where I’m fighting overseas or anything. I basically told Matt “what do I need to do to get to Shooto,” and he said “you need to do this and this and this.” And so far I’ve kept on doing that.
JT: What’s the next milestone for you?
DJ: My next goal is to become pro and fight overseas in Shooto.
JT: Thus far, what has been your best and worst memory of your fight career?
DJ: Probably when Drew lost his belt to John “Prince” Albert. Even though it had nothing to do with me, that’s probably my worst memory. And the reason why I would say [that] is because John came in, and we didn’t overlook him, but the way he came in, and he did everything right; it’s like, that pisses me off because Drew should have been there. And yes, things happen and stuff, but that’s my worst thing. . . because they never got a chance to fight. Just like Caros and Taurean. Caros beat Taurean twice with the same move, and the same sequence. Guillotine. But they never got a chance to fight. Those are my worst memories – Drew losing his belt to John “Prince” Albert and Taurean losing to Caros.
JT: What about good memories?
DJ: My best one was probably when I defended my belt at AX and I armbarred [Jorge Garza]. And the reason why that’s probably my best memory is because of two reasons – one, that’s when Matt was saying “in order for you get to that next step, you need to start finishing people.” And what did I do? I finished that person.
And the second one was, that whole week, Skidds – we’re working on armbar from side control with the knee ride. Over and over and over. And once the chance popped up, I did everything perfect. Pushed the head down, circled around, armbarred him, pulled through, sat on my butt. Had to break the lock, so I hammerfisted him in the face. Once he let go, pop the hands up, and finished the armbar. And then me and Steve had a big hug. We were like “oh yeah, that’s what we worked on, baby.” And it was just perfect. Because we worked it and I wasn’t tired at all. I could have fought somebody else that night, because I was in such good shape.
JT: Tell me about your downtime. What do you like to do when you’re trying to step away from the pressure of training and the ring?
DJ: All I do is I come home and I chill with my girlfriend Destiny. I like to dance a lot. . . Now that me and my girlfriend have calmed down, we don’t really go out. But if I ever get a chance to go to an after party and dance, best believe I’ll be on the floor cutting some rug.
When she’s not here, I’m usually playing video games or working out. And the video games I play are fighting games. And zombie games too.
JT: What’s worse – the 28 Days Later zombies or the remake Dawn of the Dead ones?
DJ: I’m liking the Resident Evil zombies. I know now, in Resident Evil 4 and 5, they’re not really zombies. They’re the Lost Project, which is a whole different story. But I like the whole background, how it’s a bioweapon.
JT: How many zombies does it take to succumb Matt Hume? How many before they turn him into a zombie?
DJ: I’d have to say 24.
JT: How about Matt Hume and Resident Evil zombies?
DJ: That’s a good one. If Matt Hume has the virus that Albert Wurtzker has, I think Matt Hume would destroy anybody in the zombie world.
JT: Who do you think would win in a match between Matt Hume and the cartoon Mighty Mouse?
DJ: Umm, Matt Hume. . . I think he’ll take his back and choke him out.
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is scheduled to fight at the next Genesis FIGHTS event, “Rise of Kings, Emperors of MMA,” on June 27th, at the Shoreline Community College.